Serbia puts up €1m reward for the capture of General Mladic

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The Independent Online

Serbia has put up a reward of €1m (£700,000) for information leading to the arrest of the Bosnian Serb fugitive General Ratko Mladic.

Rasim Ljajic, who is in charge of Serbia's co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal, said yesterday. "The decision on the award was made by the Council for National Security late last night."

An additional €1m will apparently be paid by the Serbian government for any information on Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian-Serb former political leader who shares the indictment with Mladic for the genocide of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. But Mr Ljajic repeated claims that Mr Karadzic is not hiding in Serbia, which is why the government has not officially offered money for his capture.

Serbia is to also pay rewards of €250,000 each for information that might lead to the arrests of the other two remaining war crimes suspects, Stojan Zupljanin and Goran Hadzic, Mr Ljajic said. "The offered rewards are a demonstration that Belgrade is serious about capturing the remaining war crimes fugitives," Mr Ljajic added.

General Mladic is widely believed to be hiding in Serbia, where his whereabouts can be accounted for until 2005; Mr Karadzic's whereabouts remain a secret, although there are indications he is hiding in the mountainous border region of eastern Bosnia and northern Montenegro.

The arrest of General Mladic remains the key condition for Serbian entry into the European Union, which will discuss progress on the issue at a foreign ministers' lunch on Monday. The rewards offer comes only days before the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, submits her latest evaluation report on Serbia's co-operation with the international war crimes court. A negative report might block the signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement by Serbia and the EU later this year.

The Serbian Council for National Security was established last year to co-ordinate the work of Serbian secret services in the search for war crimes suspects hiding in the country since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995.

Human Rights Watch called on EU foreign ministers this week to respect the high threshold of Serbia's extradition of Mladic as a condition for the agreement to be signed.

The war crimes issue remains the most controversial in Serbia, where opinion is still divided over the 1992-95 war. For many, General Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian-Serb army, remains a hero who did nothing wrong. For his supporters, the war crimes tribunal represents a "conspiracy against the noble Serb nation".